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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




Mac OS X Delayed, That Sounds GREAT To Me!
May 23rd, 2000

Before we start, do you remember Copland? I found the original press release from Apple's site. In keeping with the spirit of operating system history, we will discuss the delay of Mac OS X, announced last week at the WWDC.

I understand how frustrating it is to wait another half year to get our operating system of the future. I know how frustrating it is to wait when Copland was previewed in 1995 after hints in 1993, that Rhapsody never shipped and that it took long enough for Apple to convert Rhapsody into a precise strategy with Mac OS X. Believe me, I know how frustrating it is.

That said, the public beta period will certainly help to crush any bug or malfunctions found in the version shown to the public.

More importantly, there are great reasons why you and I should wait patiently until Mac OS X ships for real. I am not talking just about bugs, but about the whole system's usability. Developing masterpieces requires an awful lot of time. If we believe everything we hear from Apple, users and developers, Mac OS X has to be a masterpiece. For this to become a reality, the extended beta period will be helpful.

Also, during that time, there could be more than bug squashing. Who said that Apple would not add a couple of surprises in Mac OS X? You never know. Apple could have felt the temptation to take more time to create more flexible code, which takes less time to update in the future.

If you are not a programmer or working on the project in question, you never know if developers have good reasons to behave the unpredictable way they do and keep you waiting when you crave for anything new. Unfortunately, you have to wait, but this is how it works in the business. Would you like to use an operating system that introduces more bugs than features and code that Apple seems unable to modify after? I would not. This is why I believe that we should show some tolerance.

When it comes to software releases, users are impatient. This is understandable. Some companies have the nasty habit of previewing their products just to get everybody drooling or, worse yet, just to calm down an angry mob clambering for something new. It is my opinion that companies that take this approach are putting their credibility on the line. Users who complain about delays are part of the problem in that they put pressure on a company to speed up the creation process, too often, at the expense of quality. I believe that Apple had to make a difficult decision when considering what the delay of Mac OS X might imply, especially in public perception.

Do not get me wrong. I know all the reasons to want Mac OS X now and I understand. Mac OS 9 is not perfectly stable, and not necessarily as modern as we wish, etc. You may need a more powerful server for the Net or simply for your business' productivity. Mac OS X promises so much that you want it now.

On the other hand, I want to remind you that the new operating system represents more than an upgrade. It will be a whole new platform. Fair enough, the internals of Classic (Mac OS 9) and the OS will overlap enough to allow old software to run in an application under the new system.

Still, the change remains important enough for programmers to tweak their code to take advantage of all the new technology and break out of the Classic application. Important enough to also force millions of users to negotiate a learning curve that they have never seen before, because despite how smooth the transmutation should be, Mac OS X will make the Macintosh a whole new platform.

You cannot jump the hurdle if you are not entirely ready, or if your tools are not entirely ready. Remember that this stuff will hit the retail shelves as the OS from Apple for years to come and that Apple's future is involved. I do not know what you think, but Apple should refuse to take any chance that could result in failure.

You may think that I am afraid of change. You may be tempted to e-mail me and say that I have an old Mac (which is true, though it should run Mac OS X just fine) or that I would prefer to become a part of history than moving on. To anybody who would thinks so, I would remind that I have a G3 right now and I will be buying a G4 the next time that Apple revises it with faster processors and bigger disks :-)

I admit a bias in this issue though. After fighting with Mac OS 9 and finding a way to keep it stable, and after taking a look at Mac OS X DP3 (Developer Preview 3), I am happy with what I have and feel no urge to leap to the new system. I will probably end up switching for more stability (protected memory!), but right now Mac OS 9 is solid enough to serve me well.

I also admit that I resist change at first (only to switch to the new nd improved later) and that before making the move, I want to be sure that everything, without exception, will be perfect. If Apple tells me that the system is almost ready, that they will tweak the code and offer a public beta for complete testing, I am happy. This is much better than releasing a system just to keep a promise without being sure that every single line of code is absolutely flawless and without the guarantee of a smooth transition.

Beyond all the above issues, remember that the Macintosh is just a type of computer. While you can take computing very seriously for a certain time, you have to remember that it is not worth getting pissed about an OS release. If you have any hard feelings over this, shut the darn thing down and host a big party for your friends. After having so much fun, you will remember that your computer might be a part of your life, but it should not become enough of an obsession to forget to enjoy life itself.

We waited several years already, we can tough another six months.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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